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Hands on: Cleer Arc Review

We tested one of the most inventive headphone designs at CES

First Impressions

At first listen, the Cleer Arc are an exciting pair of open-ear headphones. The unusual shape and bright frame might garner attention, but sound leaking out of the open design won't and that's a testament to the beamforming tech inside. While low end performance leaves a little to be desired, the highs and mids are crisp and the overall sound is surprisingly powerful

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £129.99
  • Open-ear design
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • IPX-5 waterproof rating
  • Eight hour battery life
  • Voice assistant

With ANC all the rage these days, Cleer’s new Arc headphones with ‘situational awareness’ stand out for more than just their unusual shape.

With an open-ear design, a colourful, jagged frame and handy voice assistant features, these cans are certainly eye-catching, but how do they sound?

Related: Best headphones

Cleer Arc design – Incredibly light and comfortable despite their appearance

At first glance the Cleer Arc headphones don’t look comfortable. The shape is angular and the plastic ear cups have none of the padding or cushion you might find on a traditional pair of on-ear or over-ear headphones.

Cleer Arc

However, once on, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing headphones at all. The Arc headphones are incredibly light and comfortable on. Bear in mind, the pair I tried was only a prototype. Cleer told us that it plans on strengthening the headband and adding an adjustable mechanism to offer users a more custom fit for the finalised version.

The Cleer Arc headphones come in two vivid colours – a rich turquoise and a dusky pink. Both have yet to receive official names but the colours themselves are fun without seeming overly gaudy. The turquoise pair is toned down with a black panel on the outermost side, while the pink is neutralised with white.

Cleer Arc

Cleer Arc features – An impressive set of features

The standout feature on these headphones is the ‘situational awareness’ offered by the open design. Internally, the headphones are configured to minimise noise isolation and to preserve ambient noise rather than shut it out. In an industry dominated by active noise cancellation, the Arc provides refuge for those who prefer to stay connected with their environment while listening to music or watching a movie.

While not as immersive as noise cancelling headphones, there are certainly benefits to the open-ear design. The lack of noise isolation allows the listener to keep an ear out for traffic or important announcements, and offers a more comfortable experience for glasses and hearing aid-wearers.

Cleer rejects the bone-conduction method commonly used for open-ear headphones, opting rather to use beamforming directional technology to maintain sound quality.

Cleer Arc

On top of this, Cleer’s sound imaging tech claims to reduce the impact of wind on the device, promising crystal clear music and voice calls. Unfortunately I didn’t get chance to test this feature, being stuck inside a not-so-windy convention hall.

The Arc headphones also feature Bluetooth 5.0, aptX Adaptive and AAC streaming, IPX5 water and sweat resistance and Google Assistant compatibility.

You can expect to get around eight hours of playback from a single charge, while Cleer’s Quick Charge feature offers two hours of tunes from a speedy five minute charge.

Cleer Arc

Cleer Arc sound quality – Impressively achieved considering the open-ear design

Given how the Arc headphones never touch the ears, you’d be forgiven for expecting the headphone to offer weaker sound than its competitors. Thankfully, this isn’t the case.

The sound was loud and defined enough to hear clearly in the hectic convention centre hall, and yet I couldn’t hear any sound leakage from the Arc when someone else was wearing them, the beamforming directional tech offering near-magical results. The quietness bodes well for crowded train journeys and quiet offices, where the open-ear design might pose somewhat of a concern for others listening to your musical choices.

That said, the loud room could have done some of the work disguising the noise, so this is something else we’d want to listen out for in a more detailed review.

Cleer Arc

The sound itself is impressive, but not without its flaws.

While Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar is generally well-balanced, with strong-hitting midtones and sparkling treble, but the bass delivery falls short. The sound also lacked punch – in terms of both volume and pitch dynamics – though this may be to be expected to a certain extent with an open-ear design.

The stereo image, on the other hand, was surprisingly vivid. The singer’s backing vocals almost sounded as though they were tucked behind me, while Styles himself stood front and centre.

Khalid’s Up All Night offered a similar experience. However, while the instruments lacked some detail definition, the effect was nothing overly cumbersome and the midtones and treble were again excellent.

First impressions

At first listen, the Cleer Arc are an exciting pair of open-ear headphones. The unusual shape and bright frame might garner attention, but sound leaking out of the open design won’t and that’s a testament to the beamforming tech inside. While low end performance leaves a little to be desired, the highs and mids are crisp and the overall sound is surprisingly powerful.

A ’hands on review’ is our first impression of a product only - it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it’s like to use. We call these ‘hands on reviews’ to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don’t give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

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